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Sorry, No Vacancy at...

Sorry, No Vacancy at This Empty Nest

The grocery store clerk at Manor Safeway was so proud of me today. He pronounced, “Ms. Hale, you saved $7.75 in coupons and $41.29 in club card purchases!”

Ka-ching! That would be money in the bank, dinner at a nice restaurant or a press and curl and deep conditioning, if I didn’t have kids. I hadn’t really looked at it that way until my son Drew pointed out how his dad and I would be livin’ large if it weren’t for our dependents. Now that he and his twin sister, Ali, (the babies of our family) are high school seniors, they’re watching every penny we make. They have plans.

Among the mass mailings of invitational postcards and college brochures for the twins, have been unsolicited catalogs addressed to me. Today, I received two from Pottery Barn; one called PB Teen, which sells retro hip dorm room furnishings; the stuff that was popular in their grandparents’ heyday of the sixties. The other was from Pottery Barn Kids, for the nouveau riche baby set whose parents are a few years shy of retirement, with enough income to dispose of on overnight shipping. These companies are trying to market to the wrong person. When my kids go off to college, so do the contents of their rooms. I have plans of my own and they don’t include refilling my empty nest.

I love my children as much as any parent, almost as much as emperor penguins love theirs. We’ve just seen the documentary called March of the Penguins, and I mean those animals’ devotion to their mate, their family, and community is unparalleled to humans. While the male members of the group march across the ice deserts of Antarctica to find food, the females wait behind to give birth to their egg. After a couple of months the fathers return nice and fat to switch places with mom, so that he can stay behind to protect the egg while she goes off to bring home the bacon/fish. If she makes it home alive without loosing too much weight, she shares the contents of her stomach with their newborn baby chick. Meanwhile, dad, who’s been starving to death, goes off again with the other fathers, knowing that when he gets back, if mom has done a good job, their baby will have learned to take care of itself and be a productive member of society.

My husband and I didn’t go to those extremes but we did raise some eyebrows with our old-fashioned unconventional approach to child rearing. If a family member couldn’t be the primary caregiver for our baby while we went to work, then one of us was going to stay home. So we didn’t keep up with the Joneses. Their grass wasn’t any greener. Who were those people anyway?

While operating a childcare center, I made ends meet by using my exquisite handwriting skills. I addressed and stuffed a thousand envelopes a week in my spare time for one of those junk mail companies that recruit students, homemakers, and shut-ins.

Whenever we bought a new car, stripped of the bells and whistles, we drove it ‘til it died of old age. I learned how to comparison-shop and coincide vacations with business trips. I became a financial wizard on a tight budget and the kids never wanted for anything, except the latest computerized contraption or shoes that cost as much as the gas and electric bill. Our efforts to teach them the value of a hard-earned dollar were somewhat hindered, but they learned despite attempts to spoil them by certain blood related interest groups who shall remain nameless.

Drew and Ali have been asking questions recently about checking accounts, stocks, and mortgages and requesting recipes for their favorite meals. Ali has been cooking elaborate breakfasts—even on school days—and Drew now has a habit of keeping the ironing board in his room. When I did my annual spring-cleaning and prepared boxes of household goods for charity, they both pointed out pieces for me to put aside so that they could use them when they move out.

I’ve been sprucing up the place, getting a room painted here, the bathroom remodeled there, and when I announced that I was thinking of putting in a new driveway for the Airstream trailer, the twins asked in unison, “Where is the money coming from?”

They needn’t be concerned. We still have enough in the nest egg to cover college application fees and two sets of luggage.

Our children, each and every one of them, will always be welcome to come home again, but just so there is no misunderstanding, they’ll be using the guest towels.

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